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Many find pneumonia shots to be confusing

Many find pneumonia shots to be confusing

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Administered properly, pneumonia vaccine can protect a vulnerable immune system against dangerous infection.

But how the pneumonia vaccine should be given and to whom is commonly misunderstood, health officials say.

"Doctors get confused. Patients get confused," said Tamalee Taylor, a community health services director for RiverStone Health. "Sometimes they get it in their mind that they should get one every year with a flu shot."

That's a mistake that can lead to a painfully swollen injection site, Taylor said.

Vaccine guidelines

Guidelines call for people with healthy immune systems to be vaccinated against pneumonia once after they turn 65.

Younger people do not need to be vaccinated because their immune systems can fight off the infection.

If a person was inoculated before age 65, he or he should wait at least five years before receiving a second inoculation sometime after her 65th birthday, Taylor said.

No healthy person should receive more than two pneumonia vaccines in a lifetime.

"There's no proof that if you boost people every five years or every 10 years that they get more protection," Taylor said.

The drawback to getting the shot too often is the body's negative reaction, which will occur even if subsequent shots are administered to different parts of the body. It can take a week for the swelling to go down.

Keeping a vaccination record that is accessible to family members or caregivers can help avoid an unnecessary inoculation.

"We do it for our children," said Dr. Patricia Coon, a gerontologist at Billings Clinic. "It's very important for adults to keep records of vaccines."

The vaccination guidelines are different for people with compromised immune systems or chronic health conditions.

Vaccine, booster shot

Depending on their diagnoses, some people whose health is vulnerable should receive a pneumonia vaccine before age 65 and a booster shot five years later.

If both of those shots were administered before age 65, a third vaccine after age 65 - as long as five years have passed since the most recent vaccination - is recommended.

Almost 59,000 people die annually in the United States from pneumonia, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 1.2 million are hospitalized with the infection.

The vaccine, first approved by the Food and Drug Administration 30 years ago, protects against one of more than two dozen varieties of bacterial pneumonia, said Dr. Lisa Malody, an internal-medicine physician at St. Vincent Healthcare.

It does not protect against viral pneumonia, Malody said.

The vaccine targets the most dangerous of the pneumonia strains, she said.

"It is a particularly nasty and lethal bug," Malody said. "It kills people, and it kills people quickly."

It is possible to die from bacterial pneumonia within six hours of beginning to feel sick.

Symptoms of pneumonia include high fever, shaking chills and exhaustion.

The sickness is transmitted through human contact.

"It spreads from person to person," Coon said. "It's carried in the nose or throat."

A cough or sneeze can spray the bacteria into the air in droplets.

"You can inhale it, and it gets the bacteria in your lungs," Coon said.

Contact Diane Cochran at or 657-1287.


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